The Bailey Affair:
Psychology Perverted: A Response*


Dr. Peter Hegarty, University of Surrey,
Dr Penny Lenihan, University College London
Dr. Meg Barker, Middlesex University
Dr. Lyndsey Moon, University of Newcastle

*A response to the essay "Psychology Perverted" - by Dr. Joan Roughgarden of Stanford University

First published on UKPFC News

March 19, 2004



"We are particularly concerned that Bailey's work will be seen as representative of scientific psychological research,

both by the trans community and by other sections of the public."

"...the danger that Bailey's expressed anti-trans opinions might be confused with scientific evidence

is particularly high in this case."



As a social psychologist (PH), a consultant counselling psychologist (PL) a social psychologist (MB) ) and a chartered counselling psychologist (LM), we are challenged and heartened by Joan Roughgarden's call for psychologists to condemn transphobic and otherwise bigoted research. Like Roughgarden we were troubled upon reading Bailey's book for its explicit transphobic assumptions that trans adults are a negative outcome of development and for the heterosexism, sexism and racism which Roughgarden describes so well. Trans men, gay and bisexual women are notable by their invisibility in the text. The use of the authors friends' opinion of bisexuality as "gay, straight or lying" in the book itself, and now it seems in advertisements is not perceived as amusing or trivial in our opinion in view of the slow progress there has been in developing a bisexual psychology, and the real effects of biphobia in blighting people's lives. There is very little recognition in mainstream psychology generally which is further perpetuated by this book, that someone could be attracted to both sexes or have relationships with both, with many theorists favouring the general binary construction of sexuality which does not allow for an 'in between' position; people are either gay or straight (Ochs, 1996). Generally, many bisexuals are seen as straight if in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, and gay if in a relationship with someone of the same sex and that experience of having an imposed  social identity which conflicts with a personal identity, and the confusion it engenders can have commonalities with trans experience. In respect to the "Gaydar" and discussion of sexual orientation and related behaviour described in the book, a whole literature of gay and lesbian psychology which has been painstakingly developed and promoted within mainstream psychology, appears to have been excluded.

We are particularly concerned that Bailey's work will be seen as representative of scientific psychological research, both by the trans community and by other sections of the public. Bailey relies on a sample size of six - which would not be sufficient for any experimental or survey research to be published in a peer reviewed psychology journal. (Indeed, the standard statistical assumptions upon which quantitative psychological research rests - such as the central limit theorem - cannot apply to samples of this size). In this regard Bailey's work is an outlier rather than the norm for quantitative psychology.

Sometimes psychologists do conduct research with small sample sizes, and rely on qualitative data rather than quantitative data. Such research can be particularly useful when conducted among under-represented and difficult-to-access populations as it can inform psychologists about a group that it might be difficult to study statistically. Does Bailey's research then fit the model for acceptable qualitative psychology? This is questionable. A hallmark of good qualitative research is reflexivity - an awareness and description of the way that qualitative data is shaped by the researcher's own position. Qualitative researchers also frequently understand their participants as directing the research and informing its questions. The participants in this research have provided the case material but cannot be said to be participants in the sense that is currently considered good practice in psychological research. There is insufficient discussion of the limitations of his interviews and too many conclusions are drawn about the essence of transsexual psychology from casual talk in bars, occasional anecdotes and the opinions of the author's friends. The persistent critiques from the trans community (including Bailey's own participants) support our criticism of this not being collaborative qualitative research.In spite of the differences between them, and the debates between quantitative and qualitative methods in particular, all social scientific methodologies are designed to ensure that we do not  inflate our own opinions into evidence. In quantitative research this is done by using methods that limit the effects of the researchers' own perspective on the data. In qualitative research, it is done by making those effects part of the data itself. This is not in evidence in the research reported in "The Man Who Would Be Queen".

As a result the danger that Bailey's expressed anti-trans opinions might be confused with scientific evidence is particularly high in this case. Indeed, Bailey repeatedly uses a non-scientific form of argument, the 'ad hominum', to lend scientific credence to his point of view. He often cites his own status within scientific communities (and those of colleagues) but it is important to note that status within one's own field, (or elsewhere), should count for nothing in academic debates. For these reasons, the consistent criticism of Bailey's work from trans scholars, scientists from other disciplines and activists such as Joan Roughgarden, Jed Bland and  Lynn Conway is particularly welcome to us as psychologists who are concerned with standards of ethical and scholarly conduct within our field. Roughgarden is right that there is a history of transphobic research in psychology. In fact we are surprised that she describes Bailey's research as 'surprising' as he has been involved in research on childhood 'gender non-conformity' for some time (e.g., Bailey & Zucker, 1996). Most of the psychological research on transsexuality and transgender falls into the abnormal clinical literature, as did most research on homosexuality up until the 1970s. Indeed, in contrast to the well-developed fields of research on heterosexism (and also sexism, ageism, and racism) there are few studies of transphobia in psychology journals, and no standardized attitude measure has been published. Clearly there is a wide open field of trans psychology, premised on the assumption that trans people are people rather than clinical cases, which is crying out to be developed. However, it would be wrong to assume that the methods of psychology are so completely flawed that they render Bailey's research as paradigmatic.

As psychologists with a special interest in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender psychology and civil rights, we accept the need to change the way psychology has constructed all of these populations and to draw from recent works within the field of psychology to expand our everyday reality about our social worlds. However, we also recognise the need to become more interdisciplinary and even multidisciplinary if we really do want to move lesbian, gay, bisexual,  transgender  (and dare we say 'queer') studies into the 21st Century. There are growing numbers of critical psychologists  challenging traditional psychological theories and shifting paradigms.  This is particularly evident in the Lesbian and Gay Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society which promotes and develops lesbian, gay and bisexual psychological research and practice not framed from within a heterosexist framework,  as well as including a significant number of psychologists with a special interest in developing a  transgender psychology which does not pathologise trans people. This will inevitably take time and patience - despite the need for those impatient enough to want change, to come forward and become more visible.
Suggestions for future considerations for transgender psychology research both for participants to raise prior to being involved in research and for psychologists to address when designing and seeking ethical approval for such research:
1. The employment of standard ethical and scientific procedures.
2. Wide consultation with trans people and trans activists about hypotheses, research questions, etc, and a commitment to applying current good practice more commonplace now in regard to user involvement in more mainstream fields of research to trans research, particularly when the principal researchers come from outside the trans community
3. Not to use trans people as 'natural experiments' to test hypotheses about 'gender' , 'sexual orientation' etc. in static categorical terms.
4. Inclusion of qualitative and quantitative data.
5. Development of prejudice research.
6. Recognition that there is an interface with other minority areas (e.g., psychology of women, lesbian, gay and bisexual psychology) but not a tokenistic addition of trans issues to these areas without substantial engagement.
7. Sensitivity to the ways that research on prejudiced groups will be received and to reflect that awareness in how the research is disseminated.

This page is part of Lynn Conway's
"Investigative report into the publication of
J. Michael Bailey's book on transsexualism
by the National Academies"